One year after the Burundi crisis began, almost 260,000 people have fled to nearby countries and thousands more are expected to do the same over the rest of the year unless a political solution is found and a descent into civil war averted. This is according to a press brief by UNHCR spokesperson, Leo Dobbs held Friday at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
“People continue to arrive in neighbouring countries, albeit in smaller numbers in recent weeks as it becomes harder to cross borders. Many asylum seekers or new arrivals report human rights abuses in Burundi, including torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, intimidation, forced recruitment by militia, killings and extortion. To date, 259,132 people have fled the country. UNHCR expects the figure to rise to 330,000 by year's end,” the spokesperson said.
Leo Dobbs said continuing international support was needed to help ease the tension and encourage an inclusive dialogue.
“With mass returns not currently expected soon, UNHCR will in the coming year put greater emphasis on education for children and youth, and encourage refugees to become self-sufficient at a time when budget shortfalls are leading to cuts in some assistance,” Dobbs said.
UNHCR is seeking almost US$175.1 million for its Burundi crisis operations this year but has received only US$47.8 million to date which translates to only 27 percent of its needs.
According to the UNHCR, “This means we are struggling to provide even the basics such as shelter, household items and latrines. The provision of services such as specialised counselling, care for the disabled and elderly, protection of the environment and even primary health care may also fall by the wayside”, Dobbs emphasised.
Burundian refugees have fled mostly to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An independent monitoring agency, International Crisis Group, says violence in Burundi has actually increased while the government, under international pressure, made cosmetic concessions to the opposition but continued with repression of citizens.
The crisis in Burundi was ignited when a year ago, President Pierre Nkurunziza, in office since 2005, decided to run for an unconstitutional third term. The country’s Catholic Bishops, civil society and opposition political parties denounced Nkurunziza for the move. Nonetheless, Nkurunziza went ahead with polls, boycotted by the opposition and got himself re-electd.
As the regime continues on a path of bloody repression, more than 80 people have died, thousands displaced and the country left in a virtual state of anarchy.
(UNHCR /Africa Service of Vatican Radio)